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The Maine Event - Cranberry Island

Posted 09-23-2012 at 11:44 AM by TAKINBETZ

As we drove out of the park this morning, the weather forecast read “dense fog”. It looked clear where we were and our plan was to hop a mail boat ferry to Great Cranberry Island for the day. As we got nearer Seal Harbor we could see the fog over the water and it remained foggy as we drove to Northeast Harbor to catch the ferry.

We boarded the Beal & Bunker Mail Boat providing public transportation to Great Cranberry and Islesford (Little Cranberry) Islands. It carries mail as well as supplies to the little grocery stores and brings over what residents order. The Ferry, which is privately run, also has a barge which can transport cars to and from the island, when pre-ordered. The mail boat is a passenger ferry. Bunker lives on Great Cranberry Island and his two sons run one of the ferry boats. Beal and Bunker is all over Northeast Harbor.

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The day was warm and still so the fog was taking its time burning off. A 20 minute ferry ride brought us to Great Cranberry Island.

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The fog was clearing off the land and we walked up to the Cranberry House for some lunch at Hitty’s Café.

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The owner is from Sweden, her husband retired from the State Department. They live full time on Cranberry Island in the home he inherited from his parents. She loves living on the island year round. It takes planning as the Ferry is $27 RT and weather isn’t always cooperative. Although they own two homes in Southeast Harbor where they could stay, they opt to stay on Cranberry Island and ferry over once a week or so to pick up all the supplies they need. They have two cars on the Island and one on the mainland so they can do their errands.

We sat for about an hour talking about island living and Florida living. There are several full-time residents on the island in their 90’s. They feel it’s safer on the island than in one of the towns. People check up on each other and help each other out. It looks like a great place to retire to!

Attached to the little restaurant is the Historical Society museum manned by a gentleman whose wife is an artist and they live in Southeast Harbor. They lived in Florida for years and came back and forth, but decided to settle in retirement in Southeast Harbor, Me.

This area became popular in the 1800’s. Charles Eliot camped here with his Harvard friends encouraged his father, Charles William Eliot, President of Harvard, to purchase property in Northeast Harbor. Charles Dunbar followed by purchasing Bear Island in 1884. Episcopal Bishop Doane of Albany conducted services in NE Harbor and JP Morgan sailed his huge yacht the CORSAIR from Bar Harbor to hear Doane preach.

(a rich person’s version of RV living in the 1800’s)

Artists flocked to the area from the Hudson School (an art philosophy) painting scenes of Acadia, the coastline and the islands. Wealthy visitors started arriving to see the originals of the scenes that were painted.

They were called “Rusticators” because they wanted to live the rustic life on their own terms of comfort and convenience. They brought their own cooks, butlers, maids and nannies from Boston, New York and elsewhere. The trip was a long one, by boat from Boston and train and buckboard over rough roads to the island. Later the JT Morse, a steamboat, stopped in Southwest and Northeast and Seal Harbors.

Today the island, in the summer, is an artist’s haven; published writers, poets, musicians and painters all have homes over here and the culture is quite rich throughout the summer (as are many of their residents). During the winter there are 44 residents on Great Cranberry Island; many more in the summer months.

We left Hitty’s and headed down the road checking out the homes and the scenes. Stopped at the Whales Rib, a little gift shop, and its owner Polly Bunker is a riot.

Her shop is really neat; not full of the usual tourist “junk” found up and down the streets in Bar Harbor. She is in her 60’s and a lifelong resident of Great Cranberry Island. Her friend, an artist (of course) was visiting from Pennsylvania and was in love with Billy. Billy was being totally distracted by the Guinea Hens that were all around the yard.

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As Polly was wrapping up my purchase, she offered two free Guinea Hens to take along with me. Hah! She does feed the birds so they aren’t going anywhere. There was a whole flock of them living in the gardens around her home. Billy, being the ALPHA, barked at them and started to charge ….. until they squawked back at him ….. then he ran behind my legs peering between my legs at the hens!

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We continued down the road for about a mile and came to a gravel road and what sounded like surf. …. so when you come to a fork in the road .. you take it! After about an 1/8th of a mile we came upon a stony beach head just own from the cliffs and the surf was starting to pound up the cliff. The fog was hanging off on top of the water and it was ethereal and beautiful.

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Stacked on the beach were lobster pots and floats that had come ashore. If we’d had a backpack I would have picked up a float but thought it too conspicuous if I walked around the island with a float over my back.

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These lobster pot floats are all kinds of color combinations. The owners register their colors with the state so they know which pots are theirs. They dot the water everywhere. I see what people have said about sailing in Maine; the lobster pots are truly a challenge to navigate around and when coupled with rocks and fog, it could be a nightmare.

We reached as far as we were going to walk and turned around to head back down to the harbor for the 3:45 ferry. It was starting to get warm and the walk was getting long. We made it back to Hitty’s where we were going to get some water and let Billy drink from their bowl. When I went up to the window looking haggard and worn, the owner and her friend/worker laughed and asked how far we got.

Well, we didn’t get far enough apparently. The owner told her friend to take us in the car down to the end so we could see the end of the island. So, in the car we went .. back from where we came but further on. We learned which houses had writers and poets; that a beautiful old white house was owned by a South African family who had diamond mines. They were building homes on the cliffs for their kids and rumor had it the big white house was going to be relocated to a new location on the water.

There were lots of beautiful views but the people were still here in their homes. After mid-October the summer people leave and you can walk through their property to the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

We were then chauffeured down to the docks to meet our ferry. While there, we saw Polly Bunker dropping off her friend and she gave us a big wave! Only a few hours and we knew three people on the island! I’d LOVE to spend a summer here!

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As we were waiting for the ferry, the fog was still sitting off in the distance.

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I saw a boat under sail heading over to Northeast Harbor …. it disappeared into the fog bank that still hugged the harbor over there.

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At 3:45 the Ferry returned and it was full of people coming from Isleford. We got a seat in the stern and Billy laid down at our feet. He’s not especially crazy about this ferry business so stayed very close to us. When the boat docked he wanted to be the first off, but politely waited his turn and did extremely well jumping from the boat to the stairs and climbing up the dock.

It was a full day for us and Billy. He is now sleeping quietly on the couch. Not begging to “walka walka” …. In fact hasn’t even mentioned “awwout” once tonight!

Saturday we’re off to Boothbay.
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